100 Peaks #8: Wy’east: What is this List About, Anyway?

We climbed Wy’east (Mt. Hood) earlier this spring and it took about 7 hours round-trip, short for a Saturday trip for me. And they weren’t the most try-hard hours of my life by any means; definitely a significant portion of that time was waiting around talking to other people on the mountain and me learning to use four limbs going downhill. I certainly didn’t finish the day especially proud of myself, but it was beautiful in a way I’d never seen before. The big otherworldly icy pinnacles and the sound of the ice blowing across the snow was really astounding to this newbie to the world of glacial wonders. Even at the parking lot when I got out of the car to pee I almost fell over at the sight of the full moon and the wonderful velveteen light, which we started our climb under. All the light as the sun rose was wonderful, Jefferson in the distance was wonderful, and following an easy-to-find route with others around and then falling asleep in a park in Portland afterwards felt almost unfairly luxurious. (Except, of course, I did feel very slow at altitude!)

That being said, climbing Wy’east is undeniably A Thing. So much of a thing that unprepared (or even prepared) people get into deadly accidents up there all of the time. It’s the second most-climbed mountain in the world, according to many, after Mt. Fuji. It’s historically been a major landmark for a long time, with volcanic activity as late at 1865 and its role as a meeting place and “gradation climb” for the local mountaineering club. It’s typical of most popular mountaineering objectives in that it is geographically significant (tallest peak in Oregon), visually dramatic, and extremely accessible (half of the climb follows the ski lift).

Personally, I’m not really driven by things like prominence, and I love uncrowded things that are hard to get to. So when I got back and people congratulated me on the ascent, I was confused. It felt truly like a hike for recreation. Why is this, of all of the days I have “suffered” in the backcountry, the thing people consider an achievement? It felt like what most people would call “Type 1 fun” the whole time, even though I’d argue that all of my outdoor experiences that didn’t involve frostnip were as well.

That question is at the heart of the reason for this list. When I moved to Washington, I was fascinated by the Bulgers List and the strange group of people behind it. I also worshipped Kyuya Fukada’s list of 100 culturally and aesthetically significant mountains of Japan, which decades later is still a major peakbagging objective to Japanese mountaineers. This list was appealing to me coming from numbers-oriented American outdoor culture, as its peaks were chosen according to “grace, history, and individuality.” On one hand, I like arbitrary goals and devoting tons of time to them. On the other hand, I’m rebellious and want to find the interesting in supposedly “boring” mountains as well. So I decided to make my own list.

So far, I’ve been writing about peaks based on personal interest, such as an interesting thought about my experience or weird facts about the history of the place. I’ve probably written about less than half of the peaks I’ve climbed since I started (especially if you count ones where I only very nearly made the summit due to avalanche danger or something else unavoidable; a rule I’ve been keeping is that I have to have made it to the top at some point). It’s an exercise in thinking about what makes mountains important to people, and I’ve learned about Native American culture surrounding mountains, mountaineering history, accessibility, and industry. I’ve also had a variety of different emotional experiences and types of trips.

I put off writing about Wy’east for a long time because the layers of history were so deep and my experience so short it felt like I couldn’t do it justice. But it’s the perfect example of an iconthat has a huge place in local culture and a great candidate for a fun day in the mountains. As much as I like getting lost on my way to random peaks in the wrong season, on that day I enjoyed the high reward-to-effort ratio. I joined the thousands of people yearly looking at the same beautiful thing, and it was good.

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